Copyright by Brian Howard Seibert
CHAPTER SEVENTEEN POINT ZERO
17.0 THE CALM BEFORE THE STORM (Circa 1029 AD)
(1029 AD) Prince Hraerik had waited until Yulefest for news on the death of Emperor Constantine ‘the Eighth’ Porphyrogennetos of New Rome, who had died November 12th of 1028 of a mysterious illness that had turned him ashen grey before death. There had been no opportunities to off the second target as he had led his Varangians to Italy before the Emperor had expired and was already engaged with the Normans there. The Prince passed that news onto Duke Robert, who had been invited to England for Yule, as had Princess Estrid of Denmark. When the duke had heard that Estrid would be in London, he left Herleva and little William ‘the Bastard’ in Normandy. He was now a duke without a duchess, with just an unmarried concubine and her illegitimate son, and he had been going out of his way to connect with the Princess of Denmark. The Prince knew that if he wanted to find Duke Robert, then he should first locate Princess Estrid and the duke was sure to be nearby.
“I’ve just received news from Constantinople,” Hraerik told Duke Robert, “and it involves your Norman troops in Italy.” And the Prince announced that Emperor Constantine was dead, but before he had died he gave former King Olaf of Norway a regiment of Varangian Guard foot soldiers to help him win back the Norse country. Olaf had taken the regiment to Italy instead and was reported to have attacked the Normans there. Duke Robert almost cursed out loud, but Princess Estrid was nearby so he bit his lip instead. “Have you any details of the attack?” the Duke asked.
“Not yet,” Hraerik said. “I have only heard that they have taken much plunder, but I should have details on their attacks by the time we come to Rouen for the joust matches.”
“I hope to make another match at that time,” the duke said, “with the permission of her father, King Canute. Do you know of any gift I might present the King of England with that would impress him enough to allow me to ask for the hand of his daughter, Princess Estrid?”
“Princess Estrid of Denmark?” Hraerik asked innocently. “Besides adding Denmark to his Empire, he has just recently added Norway, so, perhaps a regiment of Norman foot to put against Olaf’s Varangian foot soldiers, who will undoubtedly be coming north eventually to challenge his rule there.”
“That is a great idea!” Robert hissed. “I can please King Canute while exacting revenge on the Guard for their attacks! I’ll send a regiment of my knights to Norway.”
“King Canute wants the Norwegians themselves to defend Norway from Olaf’s elite troops, so foot might be better. They’ll blend in better with the hearses and the bondsmen.”
“My knights fight equally well on horse or on foot,” the duke whispered, “and they’re far harder fighters than foot soldiers. I can dress them down to blend in. I don’t want to underestimate the Varangian Guard; I want my knights to kick their asses!”
“Yes, dress your knights down,” Hraerik mused, “chainmail, helmets sans Norman nose pieces, round unpainted shields, that sort of thing…”
“And Viking swords instead of their Frankish blades,” Robert added. “Do you know of any gift I can send Princess Estrid that will please her?”
“Her son, Svein, has moved from Sweden to Novgorod and is staying with her brother, Prince Ivaraslav. You could gift her with a fast ship for her son so he can visit her whenever he pleases.”
“Another great idea,” Duke Robert replied. “Perhaps she’ll use it to visit with me in Rouen before she gives it to her son? Or maybe she’ll bring her son with her?”
“That’s the spirit,” the Prince answered, patting the duke on the back. He knew that the last speculation was unlikely to occur. Princess Estrid had moved Svein further east to get her son away from Canute, as far away as possible. Everyone who had been involved with her son’s taking of the Danish throne was now dead, except for Svein, and Estrid did not trust her father, Valdamar. And she trusted Norman dukes even less.
But the Prince had underestimated Duke Robert. The Norman ruler had flattered and praised Princess Estrid so much and so often that she had taken to him just a little. She had not had a man since her husband, Ulf ‘the Strong’ had been murdered while under sanctuary in Roskilde’s church, so, during the later evening of the New Year’s celebration ball she led the duke up to a deserted second floor library in her father’s palace and she raped him. She didn’t ask him either. She just laid him back on a study table and she tore his pants off and took his lingam into her mouth and sucked it harder and got it wetter and then she hiked up her light blue silk princess dress and she pulled up her frilly lace slips, dozens of them, and she got atop him and she rode him like his knights rode their Percherons, bouncing high and hard in the saddle and when she began moaning in orgasm he was soon flowing within her.
For the rest of the party Princess Estrid and Duke Robert stuck together as though bonded by some charismatic glue and both Prince Hraerik and Queen Emma could see that something had happened between the two of them. After Yule they sailed back down the Thames together in their separate fleets. Princess Estrid and her Danish fleet sailed east while Duke Robert and his fleet sailed south for Rouen and Prince Hraerik and Emma sailed behind him for Southampton in their latest tallship. The British Sea, now more often called the English Channel, was busy with small merchant ships sailing between Normandy and Southern England. Merchandise was being manufactured for the upcoming trading season and Yulefest had set everybody’s schedules back, so the race was on to make back time. Another two tallships had been added to the fleet so quotas were increased correspondingly. Destinations were a closely guarded secret and the secrets must have been kept, for the manufacturers still speculated that the goods were going to Iceland and Greenland, which must have been growing leaps and bounds.
But the Landnamabok of Iceland, the official land ownership register, had been full up for years and feuds had begun over who got what farm when a pioneer died. And Greenland was green perhaps two days a year and then it went back to black, black and white. The three colonies there were struggling and had been pushed out of the south of the Newfoundland by the Hraes’ Trading Company and just couldn’t compete with the world’s largest multi-national trading company. Nobody could. Either you traded alongside the Hraes’ Company or you didn’t trade. Some Greenland entrepreneurs had set up their own company, the Herjolfsson Bay Company, officially called The Company of Adventurers of Greenland Trading Into Herjolfsson Bay, the only location they were allowed to trade in by the Hraes’, other than south to the northern tip of New Ireland. Any Greenlanders caught trading south of that would be caught and taken to Southampton, where they overwintered in jail and were then forced to be traders in the east until they had repaid their fines. And, after trading in Baghdad and Constantinople, very few of them returned to Greenland for those two increasingly scarce days of Green.
Greenland, being at the extreme limit of animal husbandry and well beyond the limit of agriculture was the first land to feel the pinch of the switch from world-wide warming to world-wide cooling, and few extended families could maintain cattle-based husbandry and were being forced to switch to a sheep-based method, which meant family clans got smaller and so did the ships they could support. A good Norse longhall supported enough family members that a head of beef a day could feed, and when weather conditions made it more efficient to graze sheep instead, longhalls became just halls, short enough to feast on a sheep a day. It wasn’t forced, but the smaller households just got on better with each other and could operate more freely, and the Norse were known for their desire for freedom.
The general cooling was expressing itself further south as well, with extreme flooding in England being followed by extreme droughts. Prince Hraerik had seen it before in his dreams and visions and the switch from warming to cooling had always been more volatile than from cooling to warming, because the warm air systems were more volatile and carried more energy than the cool systems. And the human impacts felt were far more extreme. The warming system allowed greater crops to be grown, spawning larger populations in northern lands and the cooling system that invariably followed caused crop failures that left people starving to death or migrating south, causing violent clashes and invariably death. Rome had fallen near the end of just one such cooling cycle and the Prince had seen in a vision Constantinople fall near the end of the next cooling cycle. He had watched his father, Hraegunar Lothbrok, restart the Nor’Way trade route once the frozen lands of Scythia had warmed up enough to support a one season trading cycle and had, himself, helped King Frodi restart the old Gothic trade route to the land of the Greeks. Blessed with a long life augmented by alchemy, he had seen trade burgeon under improving conditions and had helped populations grow, but now he was interpreting the end of that cycle and was growing concerned with future crop failures and how it would affect the relative world peace they were now enjoying, but he had seen the fall of Constantinople and the death of the last Emperor, Constantine ‘the Eleventh’, in a vision he’d had during the reign of Emperor Michael ‘the Second’, the Emperor who the Hraes’ had named the city Miklagard after.
Michael’s Keep would be no more at the end of this world-wide cooling cycle they were now slipping into, and Hraerik was having disturbing visions of the effect the cooling cycle would have on the Hraes’ and their great city of Kiev, well before the great city of the Greeks would fall. He had executed a great khan in the future to keep that fall from happening, but his visions of Kiev burning did not stop after the death of the khan. His dreams told him that he had saved Europe by killing the khan, but Gardar, the land of the Hraes’ and Kiev were not yet considered to be enough of a part of Europe to be saved with it. Only once Kievan Hraes’ was accepted into Europe would it be saved from these eastern invaders, these Mongols.
“Hraerik, wake up!” he heard a beautiful soft voice say. “Wake up,” Emma repeated. “You’re having another bad dream.”
“Sorry,” he said, pulling her to himself and kissing her dearly. “What time is it?”
“Too early to rise,” she answered. “Go back to sleep and get your rest. We leave for Rouen in the morning.”
The next morning a small fleet sailed from Southampton for Normandy. The Prince and Queen Emma led in their tallship and two cohorts of cataphracts followed in their transport ships. Emma wanted to get to Rouen early to make some business arrangements which involved her going to Paris and meeting with the King of Frankia for permits to increase sailings on the Seine-Rhone portage route. Prince Hraerik remained in Rouen and worked with Duke Robert to supervise the set-up of the jousting runs and the viewing stands. The Roman and Norman knights had already been practising and the Kievan knights from the Isle of Wight joined in. The Danish knights from Roskilde would be arriving with Princess Estrid in a few days and Hraerik always made a point of bragging up the princess to Duke Robert. When King Canute and Princess Aelfgifu arrived from London, Hraerik and Valdy sat down with Robert and got a serious commitment from him to supply a regiment of his knights to Canute’s vassals in Norway, disguised of course as Norwegian foot soldiers. All they needed now was news of Jarl Olafs’ activities.
Out on the tournament grounds Duke Robert spoke his approval of the improvements the Kievan knights had made to their couched lances and armour. And, as the armour got heavier, the horses got bigger, a rule of thumb being the knight in full armour should not weigh more than fifteen percent the weight of the horse, so some of the larger, more powerfully built knights had switched from Percherons to Clydesdales. “Your knights can now better compete against our Norman knights,” Duke Robert said.
“And how are your Norman knights doing in Italy?” King Canute asked the duke.
“Like Prince Hraerik, we too await news. With spring, the Varangian Guard will return to Southern Italy and try to win back the conquests we made last year. They expect the new Norwegian Jarl Olaf to return with his regiment as well.”
Canute looked over to the Prince for a response. “We too await news,” Hraerik said.
When Princess Estrid arrived with the Danish knights, the jousting began. The Danes, too, had larger couched lances and stronger protection and the duke and the princess were soon inseparable again. By the time Emma returned from Paris, Robert and Estrid were visiting each other’s master suites at night and having breakfasts together in the mornings. Once the duke made arrangements and got Canute’s permission, Robert announced their engagement together and Princess Estrid was showing off her engagement ring. They were to be wed in the next year or two, or, as had been arranged between Canute and the duke, as soon as the disguised Norman knights killed Olaf and crushed his Varangian Guard regiment.
Soon, news came up the Rhone-Seine portage route that the Varangian Guard had returned to Southern Italy for another season of campaigning and, among them was Jarl Olaf and his Guard regiment for another season of plundering. Duke Robert’s Norman knights there had orders to track Olaf’s movements and send word if he returned to Constantinople, for it would only be to return back up through Hraes’ to Norway to reclaim his kingdom. But the Duke wanted his knights in place in Norway early so they could get a feel for the land and the farmers they were to instil some backbone into. They would set up preparations and wait for a warning to come to them from Rouen. At the closing of the jousting tournament, awards were given out and there was a more even spread of ribbons between the Roman, Norman, Danish and Kievan knights this time, and when Princess Estrid took her Danish knights back to Roskilde with her, they were followed days later by longships carrying a regiment of disguised Norman knights to Lade in Trondheim Fjord.
“Duke Robert prefers to have the Norwegian jarls feeding his knights,” Hraerik told Canute as they sailed back with their wives to Southampton together, “than to have them eating his stores at their barracks in Rouen.”
“Been there, done that,” Valdy replied.
Things were soon heating up in Southern Italy. Norman knights, free-lancers, were involved in the retaking of Naples and Roman interests in the area were threatened, so Jarl Olaf ‘the Stout’ and his Varangian Guard regiment were sent in as New Roman free-lancers to attack the Principality of Salerno for booty. The spring campaign was very successful and the Norwegian jarl began to fill his war chest with Italian gold. He kept in contact with his supporters in Lade through Christian Norse merchants of the great merchant fleet that traded in Constantinople and, when his war chest was full, he would request that his supporters create an incident that would give him cause to return to Norway to reclaim his kingdom.
Prince Hraerik had again led the great merchant fleet east through Hraes’ and he went first to Constantinople and met with Gretta, who was staying in the Red House of Constantinople and had been monitoring Jarl Olaf’s movements in Roman territory, then he went to Baghdad and then India and then he returned to Constantinople with a fleet of slaver knars full of untouchables for sale in the slave markets of the Roman Empire. “Any word on Olaf?” he asked Gretta when he arrived at the Red House.
“He’s still in Italy,” she replied. “I should have followed him.”
“It’s too dangerous,” Hraerik told her. “If Olaf doesn’t get you, then there are hundreds who will try to enslave a woman on her own.”
“But there aren’t any opportunities to make a hit on him here, in Constantinople. It’s the capital of the Roman Empire, there are spies everywhere, and there are security services everywhere on the lookout for them.”
“Is it that bad?” he said, as he poured her some Frankish wine. They were once more in the eighth floor bridal suite of the RHOC and he wanted her to relax.
“When I was operating in London,” she confirmed, “I could spy on kings and no one would know it. Here, when I’m spying, I spot other spies, and, if they’re any good, they spot me. And sometimes I see the Emperor’s security watching them and I wonder if they are watching me. It’s that crowded here!”
“Have you been seen?” Hraerik asked her.
“No. I’m sure of it. Pretty sure.” She paused. “The Varangian Guard protects the new Emperor and Olaf is again a part of the Guard, so it protects him too. In Italy, that would all change. His guard would be down.”
“It’s too dangerous,” Hraerik repeated, “for a woman alone.”
“I wouldn’t be alone,” she replied. “I’ll hire a theatre troupe to go with me. I’ve written a play for it and I’ll hire a troupe to take it to Italy with me. The actors in the troupe will be my cover and my protection. They travel all the time and know how to handle the dangers.”
“You’ve written a play? You, my dear, have too much time on your hands.”
“I know,” she said. “I’m stuck in Constantinople trying to perform a hit on a target who is in Naples.”
“What’s it called? This play of yours?”
“It’s called Amleth,” she said, “and it’s based on the saga ‘Amleth, Prince of Denmark’, that you wrote.”
“Nobody in Constantinople, or Rome, or Naples is going to want to see a play covering a Norse saga,” Hraerik lamented.
“I know,” she said. “That’s why I’ve named it ‘Lucius Junius Brutus, Prince of Rome’. You loosely based Amleth on the Brutus tale and I’ve loosely based Lucius Junius Brutus on your Amleth tale.”
“There is a certain poetry to your plan. Tell me more about it.” And Gretta spent the rest of the evening going through it with him and he read her play, written in common Latin, and he was impressed with what she had done with his saga. “It’s going to take a lot of gold to get this done,” Hraerik concluded, and Gretta knew that she had won him over, once he’d begun fretting about costs. They went to bed together and slept on it. In the morning they decided the play would start in the fall in Constantinople and in the spring it would follow Jarl Olaf and his Varangian Guard regiment to Italy, to Naples, with an intended finale in Rome, itself, but she would stay in Naples and kill Olaf when his guard was down, and when the troupe returned to southern Italy she would rejoin it and return to Constantinople with it.
In the fall, Prince Hraerik returned to Constantinople with a final shipment of untouchables and then went to watch a play with Princess Sviataslava and her son, Prince Ivaraslav of the Varangian Guard. “It’s called ‘Brutus, Prince of Rome,’ and it’s similar to my Amleth tale,” he told them as they sat down. They were at an off, off the Mese theatre, but the reviews had been surprisingly positive. The Romans loved their mad prince and, of course, everybody dies in the end.
Jarl Haakon Eirikson had been invited to spend Yulefest in London with his lord, King Canute ‘the Great’ of England and Denmark and the young jarl had thought that a great honour was being paid him for the efficient way he was running Norway for his king until the messengers also informed him that Jarl Kalf Arneson would be taking over the day to day running of Norway and that he was to resume running his old earldom in York in the new year. He was understandably pissed off about it, but Canute was his king so, he was going to London to argue his case before packing up his family and moving them back to England. Valdy had always been nice in his discussions of Norway governance with his jarl, but Haakon could sense that Valdamar had a basic lack of faith in his judgements and had all but said that he was too trusting in those about him, but had called him too conscientious instead.
Hearse Einar ‘Thong-Shaker’, Haakon’s officer in charge of military operations, had also received his recall notice to England via messenger from London. He was really torn up by the news. Just after that, a messenger arrived from Constantinople via Kiev, and he told Einar that King Olaf was ready and required an incident that would allow him to make a claim on the Norwegian throne. Einar, too, knew that the promotion of Kalf was due to Jarl Haakon’s poor judgement in matters of trust, just as he knew that Haakon’s trust in him had been a serious flaw in judgement, for Einar had remained loyal to King Olaf Tryggvason, even after his ‘death’ at the Battle of Svolder and was still loyal to King Olaf ‘the Stout’ Haraldson and remained one of his sharpest Swords of Christ and was poised to strike.
Jarl Haakon was leaving Norway for England in his fine new brightly painted warship and was racing against a storm that was brewing and blowing out of the northeast. It was late fall and the wind was cold and biting and ice was forming along the topstrakes and his rowers were kept busy knocking it back into the sea from whence it had lept. The young jarl spotted the opening in the great Trondheim Fjord that led to the North Sea and he had his rudderman steer for it and they were soon in open waters. Then he saw two warships coming out of the mouth of the fjord and soon he could make out the ship of Einar and the ship of Ole, his foremost man. He stood at the aftstem of his own ship and he waved at them and they soon pulled up on either side of him. The jarl hadn’t seen the ropes that were submerged in the water between the two ships that had glided up to his, but he felt a sensation of what the Normans called ‘Deja-Vu’, when suddenly the ropes were raised between them and Einar and Ole’s men managed to capsize Haakon’s large warship. While the young jarl and his men were in the water, Ole’s men kept them from clambering atop the strakes of their capsized ship and would allow them no egress to his own. Einar kept his ship off a bit so he wouldn’t have to watch the cold waters sap the lives out of those in them and slip beneath the waves.
Hearse Einar had planned to gather up all the floating bodies and Haakon’s ship and was going to burn them all along a deserted coastal beach, but the storm came upon them suddenly and they were lucky to get themselves back within the safe confines of Trondheim Fjord before the full fury of it came down upon them. The storm progressed from the northeast and took Haakon and his men and his ship southwest across the North Sea and deposited them on the beaches of several of the Orkney Islands, where they were found by the locals over the next few days. Jarl Haakon’s fine new ship was easily identified even though the blue and battered bodies weren’t so easily distinguished and news of the incident, the drowning, was kept quiet and sent only to King Canute in Winchester. There was a mysterious rope entangled up in the rudder of the ship and there were numerous mysterious rope burns in the tarred lower strakes of the ship. The fine new ship would be held for study by King Canute’s Exeyes officers.
The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle for the year read:
A.D. 1029. This year King Knute returned home to England.
The Prince Hraerik’s New Chronicle of the Hraes’ for the year read:
(1029 AD). Peace prevailed.